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Society

En Route to Paris Olympics, Flame Will Stop at Founder’s Greek Vault

ATHENS – Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin so had his heart set in the modern Olympic Games that he created, the first in Athens in 1896, that when he died he had his heart buried near the spot where the ancient games were held, in Olympia.

And this year, the tradition of having the Olympic Flame carried from there to wherever the Games are being held, will stop at the monument holding his heart’s remains, especially poignant as the Olympics will take place in Paris.

It will also mark the 100th anniversary of the second time that Paris hosted the games in 1924, although this year there will be extra cautions because of worries about terrorism and rising wars in the Middle East.

The flame first flew over the 1928 Games in Amsterdam and at the 1932 Los Angeles games but bringing it from Greece began under Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Berlin Games, where the United States ignored mistreatment of Jews.

The British newspaper The Independent noted the tradition’s significance this year because of the Paris site, the third game the City of Light will host the event, the first being in 1900, four years after they opened in Athens.

What’s left of de Coubertin’s heart is under a white marble cover as part of a cypress-ringed memorial, the lighting ceremony nearby watched around the world, Spyros Capralos, head of the Greek national Olympic committee told The Associated Press that, “We pay respect to the (monument) of Coubertin every time … the flame goes first there.”

He added that, “And now, 2,800 years after the first Olympic Games, we are happy that the (Games) are returning to Paris, birthplace of Pierre de Coubertin,” although there’s been renewed pushes to have Athens be the permanent site.

The seat that Coubertin used at the renovated ancient marble Panathenaic Stadium in Athens is still preserved with his name carved on it, but otherwise almost always empty instead of being the centerpiece of all Olympics.

Before he died in 1937 and was buried in Lausanne, Switzerland – now the headquarters of the scandal-ridded International Olympic Committee, instead of Athens – he left instructions for leaving his heart in Greece.

It was to be removed and placed inside the monument erected in his honor just outside the ruins of ancient Olympia, the future King Paul of Greece performing that ceremony in March 1938.

That came after a blessing by black-robed Greek Orthodox priests. The grove is now part of the IOC, an institute established to promote education on the history and principles of the modern Games.

Born in 1863, de Coubertin was the second President of the IOC – after Greece’s Demetrios Vikelas – serving from 1896-1925, having the helm during the first two Games in Paris and spiritually this year.

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